Most of the processed food we eat today contains ingredients that were genetically modified in a lab – mainly the corn syrup and soybean oil often found in cereals, crackers, cookies, chips and frozen meals.
Scientists have long been engineering crops to make them more resistant to pests and extreme weather, and the controversy is growing over whether people have a right to know if the food they eat has genetically modified ingredients, also known as GMOs.
“The biotechnology industry did a good job of selling genetically engineered crops to farmers in the mid-90s, but they never had to sell their products to the American consumer,” Colin O'Neil with the Center for Food Safety said. “Frankly, people shouldn’t be surprised that now consumers are asking, ‘What is in my food and why haven’t I known before?’”
Congressional Democrats recently revived a bill to require clear labeling of food or beverages that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
The legislation reflects a growing trend: Last year, Whole Foods required the labeling of all products that contain GMOs by the year 2018. Chipotle announced plans to phase out GMOs, and General Mills said it stopped using GMOs in its original Cheerios cereal.
But seed manufacturers and many food companies say labels will scare away consumers for no good reason. That was the take-away of a recent congressional hearing.
"Attaching a label will send the false message that there's something to worry about because the FDA's labels are there to alert consumers to food ingredients with health implications,” Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the senior science advisor for OFW Law, said.
The view of mainstream science is that genetically engineered foods are safe, but critics aren't convinced.
“How can we be definitively sure that GMOS are safe if there is no long-term human health testing done?” O'Neil asked.
There is one thing that people on both sides of the debate agree on. They say if you want to avoid eating genetically modified food, the best option is to look for verified non-GMO products or buy USDA certified organic.